Question: What is the Alberta Teachers’ Association doing to get ready for the year ahead?
Answer: This question and others related to it were frequently posed to me by teachers attending the Association’s Summer Conference in Banff this August. Those asking the question were thinking about many different challenges facing us, including the prospects of a hotly contested provincial election within the next nine months and how the outcome might affect teachers and public education; the roll out of new teaching, leadership and superintendent standards; and the ongoing development of curriculum and continued central table bargaining (as well as local table negotiations in 15 bargaining units).
On top of all this are the daily trials of teaching in overcrowded classrooms while attempting to address the needs of individual students in conditions of growing classroom complexity. Indeed, the year ahead will be interesting.
However, the Association has been preparing to meet both new and longstanding challenges for months now, based on a strategy consisting of four components: hardening, communication, engagement and action.
The first of these, hardening, involves reviewing the way in which the Association operates with the objective of identifying and correcting weaknesses and taking advantage of opportunities to improve our effectiveness and efficiency. Much of this work involves ensuring that we have the right people and resources in place to respond to member needs and expectations. One of the more visible examples of hardening is the addition to our staff complement of some truly inspired, talented and energetic individuals, all dedicated to serving teachers.
Communications entails determining what the Association’s key messages are and how best to reach our critical audiences both within the profession and beyond. You will soon be seeing on television, popular websites and in other media the Association’s "Face of Education" campaign. This campaign is intended to remind viewers that education is not an abstract enterprise — it directly affects the lives of children. It will set the stage for a more politically oriented but non-partisan campaign intended to make issues around public education a key focus in the run-up to the provincial election this spring.
Engagement involves reaching out to and mobilizing our membership. There are more than 46,000 active teachers in the province. If we use just a small fraction of our individual and collective capacity to advocate for improvements in our conditions of practice and standard of living, we can be a formidable force. Just one example of Association engagement involves the preparation for central table bargaining that has been ongoing for more than six months now. Teachers have been invited to identify their priorities, which in turn have informed the Association’s opening position and objectives as it commences central table bargaining with the Teachers’ Employer Bargaining Association representing school boards and the province.
As negotiations proceed, members can turn to the ATA website for frequent updates on progress and will have the opportunity to participate in regional meetings prior to deciding the course and outcome of collective bargaining.
Finally there is action. The strength of this Association derives from the commitment of each individual teacher. At various times in the year ahead you will be called upon by your colleagues, your local, your bargaining unit and your provincial Association, to make a phone call, compose a letter or an email, attend a meeting, talk to an MLA or candidate, send out a Tweet or post on Facebook. In the final analysis, our success, your success, depends upon your willingness to become involved and act in support of your interests and public education. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (firstname.lastname@example.org).